How to make bread (101 tutorial) – P3: Proofing and Shaping

In this series of “How to make bread”, we would like to guide you through the whole procedure of making a loaf of bread from scratch. We introduce not only the basic steps, necessary techniques and skills (such as folding or proofing the dough), but also important notes (plus tips and tricks) to ensure you a success right at your first attempt.

We hope you find many takeaways from this series and May your bread always rise ;)

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Part 1: Preparing ingredients

Part 2: “Starters” and How to knead bread dough

Part 3: Let the dough Risseeeeee

* Step 4 – Proofing/ First rise

Having an elastic, smooth and shiny dough ball after kneading, it’s time for proofing (first dough rise). In this proofing, the yeast “eats” sugars (broken down from flour’s starches) and “releases” alcohol and CO2 into gas bubbles. Alcohol gas evaporates during the proofing and baking process, and CO is held in by the gluten network formed during the kneading process. Hence the pace and volume of dough rising depends on how much yeast is used, the activeness and effectiveness of the yeast.

Indication of ripe test (for the first dough rise) is, as mentioned in many bread recipes, the dough “doubles in size”. However, the point of proofing is actually to give bread its characteristic flavor and aroma. During this proofing, activities of yeast and other microorganisms release “products” to generate flavor in bread. Slower activity of the yeast and longer proofing time thus result in tastier bread. Therefore, slow-proofing bread recipes (by letting the dough rise in refrigerator at temperature low enough to slow down the yeast activity) or pre-fermentation (by fermenting part of the ingredients before mixing together with the rest and letting it rise) are both to achieve this purpose.

It should be noted that slow proofing is different from long proofing. Slow proofing is slowing the dough rise, by cutting down on yeast, or decreasing temperature to slow down the yeast activity (as in refrigerator). Long proofing is letting the dough rise in a long period of time – maybe too long. Consequently, the dough over-rises and gluten strands are stretched too much, thus declining or losing its elasticity. The dough is now wet and sticky, losing its smoothness and elasticity. Moreover, too much alcohol gas is released after too long proofing, resulting in bread’s strong yeast odor.

To summarize, there are several points to note down for this first proofing:

    • Let the dough rise until it increases 1.5 times or doubles in size. The amount of yeast used and temperature determine proofing time, ranging between 45 and 90 minutes on average. A ripe test can be performed by pressing one or two fingers about 2-3 cm deep into the dough, if the indents remain, the dough has risen enough. If the indents fill back, the dough needs more proofing time. If the dough deflates, it has over-risen.
  •  MVI_9278Try to keep the dough from drying. I often let it rise in a pot covered with lid: First, I grease the pot with a little oil (to prevent dough from sticking to the pot). Turn the dough in and flip over to coat it with oil. Cover the pot with lid and let the dough rise in a warm spot. Similarly, we can proof bread dough in a tightly covered bowl, a box with lid, or a sealed plastic bag. These ways also work well to maintain the dough’s moisture.
  • Don’t let the dough rise at too high temperature. Although high temperature helps the dough rise faster, thus decreasing proofing time, it also destroys the flavor of the bread. A simple way is heating the oven at 50 °C for 3-5 minutes, turning it off and letting the dough rise inside the oven. In hot summer days, it does just fine at room temperature.
  • If dough never rises, it can be explained by yeast problems (expiry or low quality). Moreover, too hot water used to activate the yeast or over-heating due to a long time machine kneading may kill the yeast.
  • If dough rises too fast (it doubles in size in 15-20 minutes only), it can be explained by too high temperature or too much yeast.

* Step 5 – Dough rest and shaping

After the first proofing, different bread recipes determine what to do next. Usually it is to gently knead the dough and divide it into pieces, let it rest for 5 minutes before shaping. It is recommended to use a scale to divide the dough to avoid having pieces of uneven sizes and different baking time later. Also, using a sharp cutter to divide the dough is always better than tearing it as the latter will harm the gluten strands.

There are many ways to shape bread, which will be introduced and illustrated with pictures in each recipe on Rice ‘n Flour. It should be noted that the dough’s elasticity may cause difficulty in shaping. If it is the case, let the dough rest in 5-10 minutes for gluten to “relax” and “get used to” its new shape. When the gluten is “relaxed”, the dough shrinks less, making it easier to shape. Always remember to cover the resting dough to prevent it from drying.

If the dough can’t be baked all in one batch, you can postpone baking by refrigerating the unused dough. Chilling slows the yeast activity, thus increasing rising time while waiting for the first batch to be baked.

Step 6 – Proofing (Second rise)

This second proofing is to “collect” gas bubbles inside gluten network to form soft, spongy bread and its texture as expected. Let the dough rise this second time until it increases 1.5 times or doubles in size. Then by baking, the dough will continue to rise until the yeast dies at a certain temperature, the gluten strands harden and form the bread texture as expected.

Ideal temperature for this proofing is a bit higher, between 32 and 38°C (90 – 100°F ). Usually I heat the oven until it reaches the desired temperature and place the baking tray in. We don’t cover the dough with plastic wrap or damp towel, for these can stick when the dough rises and deflate it when being pulled out. To maintain the moisture inside the oven, I put a cup of boiling water, or spray water to the space over the dough and on the oven’s walls. Moisture will hence be trapped inside the closed oven.

End of part 3 – Part 4: Baking and Storing bread

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Authors: Trang and Xuan

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